Make sure you stretch and the canteen’s full. That’d be with water, not latté. We’ve an epic trail ride ahead.
This morning, we’ll be riding into yesteryear, paying our last regards to film icon James Dean. The last food in his tummy hailed from Santa Clarita. There are
poison gas clouds and movie stars.
We’ve got giant rattlesnakes, the birth of EIRs, killer dogs and a parade of wild animals through downtown Newhall the likes of which haven’t been seen since Noah built his boat.
Doggone it, saddlepals, sure is good to be with you again…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
THE SIMMERING SOUTHERN — Back on Oct. 1, 1888, one of the finest hotels on the entire West Coast of North OR South America burned to the ground. The old Southern Hotel was built for travelers and businessmen and was hailed by epicureans as a bona fide 5-star resort. Its epicenter sat smack dab where Market Street and Main is today. It lasted just 10 years and was never rebuilt.
GOLD PIONEER. SORTA — He was credited with making the first major gold discovery in California history in 1842. But, there had been other major gold strikes in the Santa Clarita Valley prior to Don Francisco Lopez’s discovery of some golf flecks on an onion near an oak tree. Some of those finds go back to the late 1700s in the Castaic area. Still. Lopez was one of the first to file an official claim with the governor of California, back when this valley was ruled by Mexico. For his reward, Sir Lopez (the title of “don” was an indication of being part of the landed gentry) received a few bucks and a land grant — Rancho Los Alamos.
OUR FIRST GYM — We used to have a huge mule yard and commissary in Saugus for workers on the California Aqueduct. When the commissary closed in the early 1920s, it became the Ayers Athletic Club for a while.
GIMME TWO FROZEN PIZZAS, SOME KITTY LITTER, AND A POUND OF GOLD — During the early 20th century, Campton’s General Store really was a general store. Besides selling just about everything from pick axes to canned peaches, Campton’s used to take in about $200 a month in local gold dust.
DEAD RIVER’S STILL DEAD — Homesteader John Haskell of Haskell Canyon fame used to make a nice side living placer mining at a long-forgotten alleged body of water in Saugus. It was aptly named: Dead River. Haskell used to dig 20-30 feet in the sandy river bottom until he hit bedrock, and, hopefully, some gold.
OCTOBER 1, 1922
PICKLES FOR BRAINS — Picnickers Hyman Lichstral, Max Lichstral, Luis Koslove and Edward Levi were arrested. The quartet started a campfire that got out of control in Castaic. They fled. A brush fire started. Witnesses snitched. The four were arrested and fined.
ON THE BRIGHT SIDE, THEY WEREN’T HANGED — Melvin Groce and his brother were arrested for liberating a string of ponies from the Walsh ranch. Melvin was a juvenile and got sent to camp. His older brother was given a stiffer penalty: 1-15 years in the pen. That sure seems like quite a bit of leeway.
A HOMERIC VACATION IN 1922 — Fielding Wood of Saugus came back from a vacation that would have humbled Ulysses. Fielding’s vacation covered 2,700 miles from here to Oregon and back. This was no small feat. In 1922, most of the roads were dirt and gravel. And add this to your travel budget. Fielding went through an entire set of tires. The old thin rubber tires back then would only last about 3,000 miles. We’ve got folks today who ride that far in a month. Gas was about a dime a gallon then — when you could find it.
BETTER THAN ‘SKUNK SKETCHES’ — We used to run a column in The Mighty Signal called “Porcupine Quills.” The author, Thornton Doelle, the SCV’s first cowboy poet, wrote it under the pen name of, “Moonlight,” and offered the disclaimer to his prose title, “A Sequel to Soledad Snapshots, Extracted painlessly from live porcupines.”
UNLUCKY NUMBER FOR BOBCATS — H.W. Mills, an employee of the Acton Hotel, shot a rather large bobcat just as it was exiting the lodging’s chicken yard. Turns out the critter had made off with his 13th stolen chicken.
LUCKY TO BE ALIVE — Engineer Mike Malloy was locomoting his narrow-gauge engine from the Pacific Coast Borax Co. mine in Tick Canyon to the main railroad at Lang Station. The heavy load jumped the tracks and the engine flipped end-over-end, with Malloy still in it.
OCTOBER 1, 1932
A LITTLE SQUIRRELLY? — A young hunter from Los Angeles was camping out in Placerita. In his first week, the outdoorsman trapped 50 squirrels. Later, he sold them in downtown L.A. to Chinese merchants. Wonder what they did with them?
HAPLESS HUNTER — I’ve heard more than my fair share of dumb hunter anecdotes. This one takes the cake. Estal Anderson was buck hunting in Newhall. He somehow managed to miss the deer and shoot himself — in the arm. How — on Earth — do you do that?
ST. FRANCIS DAM DISASTER, PART II? — Locals were more than a mite nervous. Construction had been going on for the new Bouquet Dam, at the top of the canyon. It would hold about 10 billion gallons of water — making it about 30% smaller than the St. Francis Dam the next canyon over. (You know — the one that burst four years earlier, killing 500 people?). The earth-filled dam was 185 feet high, 2 feet shorter than St. Francis. Besides the obvious fear of another dam disaster, other neighbors were peeved. The federal government voided all the mining claims in the affected area. On the plus side, we got a nice, new paved road up Bouquet Canyon…
RABID DOG — On this date, the police dog owned by Otto Held attacked his 2-year-old grandson, savagely biting and shaking him. A neighbor rescued the toddler, putting himself between the baby and vicious canine. As he handed the baby to Grandma Held, the dog leapt again, biting the baby in the face. The dog then attacked the neighbor. Literally dragging the dog as it gnawed on his leg, the neighbor crawled, rolled and limped to the barn to get an ax. On his way, Grandpa Otto showed up with a gun and killed his pet. The beast had rabies.
TIMES WERE TOUGH DURING THE DEPRESSION — Joe Englebrecht came home from a visit to town with $13.20 worth of groceries. That’s a ton of food in 1932 money. He laid the goods on his kitchen table and went off on an errand. When he came back, the groceries were replaced with a note: “I am taking these to feed my children. I will pay you back some day.” Said Englebrecht, “I fear this man will be like some of my neighbors — they have big hearts, but poor memories.”
OCTOBER 1, 1942
PATRIARCH PASSES — On this date, Canyon Country settler Frank Wright passed away. He had homesteaded up there at the turn of the century. I always thought his bride had the neatest name — Nina Belle Petty. She was a columnist for The Signal.
VOLCANIC HONEY — Brush fires are a given decade after decade in the Santa Clarita. By what is today Circle J, off then-San Fernando Road, local firefighters had an unusual obstacle in trying to put out a blaze — bees. There used to be several huge oaks off the road there. A brush fire leaped onto an ancient hollowed-out oak that was also the home to several thousand bees. The firefighters couldn’t get close enough to the flaming tree because of the angry swarms. Making it worse, several hundred pounds of honey turned volcanic. The tree burned for nearly a week.
OCTOBER 1, 1952
JIMINY CHRISTMAS, SUMMER JUST WOULDN’T LET GO!! — We had a heat wave stick around this week a half-century back, with the mercury above 107 in some spots. The heat wave followed a rainstorm, too.
COP HUMOR — Poor Alpha Hartman. The local sheriff’s sergeant had been recovering after being gored by a mad bull. When he went back to work, his co-workers at the Sheriff’s Department started making mooing sounds behind his back. They also created a fake Signal front page with the war-declared headline:
Sgt. Alpha Hartman Bags Record Bull Moose
Animal Weighs in At Over 1,600 Pounds
Magnificent Brute Dropped by a Single Shot!
NOT QUITE YOUR LOCAL FAUNA — A few old-timers might recall some of the oddest sounds ever heard in the Little Santa Clara River Valley since the Pleistocene Epoch. Clyde Beatty used to use present-day Stevenson Ranch for his winter camp for his famed circus. Before there were so many buildings littering the landscape, the sound would carry and folks as far away as Saugus could hear the moans, roars, trumpeting and addendum noises of lions, tigers, elephants, leopards, etc., etc. Clyde used to house his circus in El Monte, but the odor was too repugnant for the folks there. It was an amazing sight for locals when the circus came to town because they unloaded 20 railroad cars at Market Street by the abandoned Newhall Train Depot and walked many of the critters down today’s Newhall Avenue to Pico (today, Lyons Avenue) all the way to the old Newhall Dairy Ranch on Highway 99 (today, Interstate 5). It was quite a sight to see — a parade of elephants, camels, llamas and zebras walking down the road. The predators, of course, had to make the trek in their wagon cages.
SEPTEMBER 30, 1955
AN OSCAR WINNER’S LAST MEAL — In real life, he was one messed up cat-daddy. His behavior vaulted over being a “Rebel Without A Cause.” He was elevated to American sainthood after this date, more famous in death than in life. James Dean, 24, American icon, died on this date. He had his last meal at the old Tip’s restaurant before his fatal crash in his racing Porsche in the neighboring San Joaquin Valley. His last meal? Apple pie and milk, according a Signal interview of witnesses and the waitress who served him. (We tend to get one sniffy letter to the editor about how James didn’t stop at Tip’s. He did. Learn it. Live it. Memorize it.)
OCTOBER 1, 1962
TOO SNAKY — Elmer Herzberg shot himself a 50-inch black diamond rattlesnake on this date in his Newhall backyard. The Herzbergs had been plagued by the poisonous reptiles all summer. Mrs. H was nearly bitten by another rattler earlier while she was gardening and their cat was fanged by yet another. On the bright side for the Herzbergs, the last viper was a 50-incher, not a 50-footer. The latter are quite rare in these parts.
I GUESS AUDREY MUST HAVE BEEN DISTRACTED — Mrs. Audrey King got into her Pontiac on 16th Street, cranked it up, and threw it into reverse. Mrs. K noted she felt a huge bump and heard an unusual grinding noise. When she got out, she noticed someone had removed her two front tires and wheels and had placed her car up on blocks. I hate when that happens.
FROM THE GLOBAL COOLING DEPARTMENT — While we were boiling in triple digits on this date in the 1950s, the valley was basking in low-70s temperatures for the high this week in 1962.
OCTOBER 1, 1972
AND IT ’TWEREN’T MICKEY — There are a lot of rats in show biz. One got an award. On this date, the rodent “Ben,” star of the movie, “Willard,” won a PATSY. That stands for Performing Annual Top Star of the Year and you have to have feathers or walk on four feet to qualify. The ceremony was held at Magic Mountain.
A MOUNTAIN RANGE OF PAPER — For Newhall Land and other valley developers, this date was akin to the birth of Satan. On Sept. 26, 1972, due to a California State Supreme Court ruling, all new building permits had to be accompanied by an environmental impact report. The newly opened Valencia office of the county building engineer division had to close down for the day. Reason? Total confusion. No one quite knew what an EIR was. About a dozen builders who were waiting for their building permits (one for a room addition on their house) had to leave when they locked the doors.
LA SCLARITA — On Oct. 2, 1972, by an informal local vote, we decided to “officially” call ourselves the Santa Clarita Valley. We have gone by many names over the years, starting with long-forgotten clicking noises of what the local Tataviam referred to as their stomping grounds. When the Spaniards arrived, the name of the Mission San Francisco stuck. When ex-soldier and general manager of the Mission San Fernando was given essentially the entire valley, he called his new digs the Rancho San Francisco and in 1876, we were simply called Newhall. Other names came: Newhall-Saugus; the Soledad Township; Newhall-Saugus-Valencia. This paper’s own publisher, Scott Newhall, tried to stick all the residents with Valencia Valley (it was Scotty who came up with the handle for the new Newhall Land housing projects). There were even dozens of other handles to refer to our hometown. The term, “Santa Clarita” was chosen. It came from a handle several old timers used beginning in the 1930s (and possibly earlier): — the Little Santa Clara River Valley — Santa Clarita, en Español.
OCTOBER 1, 1982
KA-BLOOEY AND THEN SOME — Huge, ground-shaking explosions were all part of living in the Santa Clarita Valley when Bermite was around. The big ordnance-making factory on Soledad lost a building on this date. A spark from an oven ignited some high-tech explosives, sending 55-gallon barrels spiraling high into the air and starting a brush fire. A thick black cloud of ammonia-perchlorate (used to make rocked fuel) floated over part of Santa Clarita. No one was injured and everyone pretty much held their breath until the cloud passed.
AND WEBER’S STILL AN IDIOT — John Weber, deputy director of L.A. County Parks and Recreation, said it best, “I made the mistake and I assume the responsibility for it.” Weber OK’d the bulldozing of a swimming pool on the old Asher Ranch on Vasquez Rocks Park. Weber gave permission for the destruction of the pool, even though it was on the National Register of Historic Places. Seems that underneath, there was a treasure trove of ancient Anasazi treasures dating back to 4000 B.C. On the bright side, the county work crews took all of the archeological fortunes and transferred them to the dump — safe for future archeologists thousands of years from now.
• • •
Well this was an epic trek, wasn’t it? Thanks for the company and the good medicine of your friendship, dear saddlepals. I’ll meet up with you in seven days back at The Mighty Signal’s hitching post. Until then — vayan con Dios, amigos!
Go buy Boston’s newest book, “The 25 Most Inappropriate Dog Breeds,” at johnbostonbooks.com. Sombrero in hand, we note a 5-star rating on Amazon would be grandly appreciated!